LEXINGTON – Rust? Not so much for Warren East.
Although they hadn’t played a game in nearly two full weeks due to the KHSAA Fast Pitch Softball State Tournament being pushed back a week because of rain, the Lady Raiders didn’t show many signs of rust on Friday as they opened their play in the tournament with an 8-1 quarterfinal win over Ashland Blazer at John Cropp Stadium.
“It was really hard to get back into a groove,” sophomore centerfielder Lucy Patterson said. “Even though we’ve been hitting in practice, it’s still not the same as hitting other pitchers. It took everybody a little bit to get together, but once we got together you can see from the score we started to get hits.”
Region 4 champion Warren East (35-2) built a 2-0 lead after the opening inning before Ashland Blazer cut it in half in the third. The Lady Raiders responded by scoring six unanswered runs to put the Region 16 champion Kittens (25-12) away and extend their season.
Patterson led the way for WEHS with a perfect 3-for-3 day at the plate, while senior second baseman Kya Elkin and sophomore third baseman Shelby Trent both went 2-for-3 with an RBI each.
Senior pitcher Katie Gardner – the 2019 Kentucky Miss Softball winner – finished with nine strikeouts while allowing four hits and a run in five innings of work. Freshman Emma Markham tallied four strikeouts in two perfect innings in relief.
“Both teams really competed out here,” Warren East coach Philip McKinney said. “Other than it’s a great facility, the atmosphere was totally different than what we’ve been accustomed to going to Owensboro. I think both teams played a little tight – and the fans were a little tight – but that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.”
Warren East got going early, quickly scoring two runs in the top of the first inning.
With junior shortstop Hailey Hymer and Patterson both on, junior right fielder Olivia Price stepped to the plate and hit a groundball to the shortstop area – and a fielding error that saw the ball roll into the outfield allowed both runners to score and gave the Lady Raiders a 2-0 lead.
Ashland Blazer responded with a solo home run from Lauren Spears in the bottom of the third. With the Kittens trailing by a pair of runs, Spears – who was leading off the frame – took a hard swing at the first pitch of the at-bat and sent it over the left field wall to cut Ashland’s deficit in half.
“We had to really focus,” Trent said. “We always struggle at the beginning normally, but we had to stay loud in the dugout and keep everybody up and made sure that we stayed on the ball.”
While Hymer’s two-out RBI single in the fourth gave the Lady Raiders another two-run lead of 3-1, the squad really went to work in the fifth.
Behind three hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch, Warren East assembled a three-run set to build a 6-1 advantage. With the bases loaded following singles from Patterson and senior first baseman Jeyda Bays and a walk that put Price on, Gardner was hit by a pitch – which allowed Patterson to score from third.
A single by Elkin plated Bays and made it 5-1 before a wild pitch sent another runner home to give the Lady Raiders the five-run edge – and they were able to cruise from that point and punch a ticket to the semifinals.
Warren East will face Region 5 champion Central Hardin (36-7) in Saturday’s 1:45 p.m. (CT) semifinal. The two sides met in the final week of the regular season back on May 13, with the Lady Bruins winning 5-4 in nine innings.
“They’re good. They’re good every year,” McKinney said. “They’re just an hour up the road from Bowling Green. A lot of our kids have played their kids in travel ball and, of course, in high school. We’re down to the final four and we’ll tee it up and see what happens.”
WEHS – 2 0 0 1 3 0 2 – 8 10 3
ABHS – 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 – 1 4 2
WP: Gardner. LP: Akers.